Many years ago, I saw a film called “Beautiful People”. It was released in 1974 and was in the style of a nature documentary but with a strong 'object-lesson' narrative binding the stories together. Stories about various interactions between animals and humans in the African bush. It left a big impression on me as a child.
One story began with a Bushman (or San) hunter who needed to find some water. He noticed a baboon in a tree nearby, so he carefully dug out a hole in the side of a large termite mound and stuffed it full of melon seeds, making sure that the baboon could see what he was doing. He then left the immediate area and hid to watch what unfolded. Once the baboon could see that the man was gone, he climbed down the tree, rushed over to the termite mound and stuck his hand into the hole to grab a handful of melon seeds.
Because his fist was now too big to pull out of the small hole, he became stuck and the Bushman walked over at his leisure, caught the baboon and tied him to a nearby tree. It was only after he was caught that the baboon had the sense to let go of the melon seeds. Too late.
The Bushman then left some lumps of salt near to the baboon, who greedily ate the precious resource. The Bushman watched and waited as the baboon got thirstier and thirstier until it was time to let him go. Quick as a flash, the baboon was off to his secret water reservoir with the clever Bushman in hot pursuit to get his share of the water.
I can't vouch for how true this story is. Many of the older nature documentaries were written with forced narratives and interpretations. It does serve as a good illustration, though. As a small boy, I determined to never be as silly as the baboon in not letting go of the melon seeds.
How many of you are like that baboon? Stuck clinging on to something that you think makes you happy but only to your detriment. Something like lifestyle, for instance.
A voice of wisdom once asked,”Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes?”
I would like to compare the melon seeds to lifestyle. For most people, life is less important than the lifestyle that they are familiar with. They would rather die than venture out of their comfort zones.
Many of the diseases and conditions that kill us today are lifestyle-related. Diseases such as obesity, some forms of diabetes, smoking and drug-related illnesses, some forms of cancer and heart-disease. We're like baboons clinging to fistfuls of melon seeds as the grim reaper approaches at his leisure. For every person who turns their life around, there are thousands who don't.
It frustrates me when people come to me asking for lifestyle and fitness advice and then dismiss my suggestions with statements like, “Oh, I tried that. It's just too hard.” or, “I could never give up X”. It's almost as if they just want someone in authority to agree with them that lifestyle change is impossible for them so that they can go back to killing themselves slowly and never be bothered by feelings of loss or guilt again.
Well let me state categorically that you are in charge.
We can't choose everything about our physical condition. Some of us are born with medical conditions that are outside of our control, but positive lifestyle change is generally within our power to choose. I'll qualify that by adding that there is usually scope for lifestyle improvement and optimisation within the bounds set by our geographic and socio-economic confines.
You are the custodian of your health and you are answerable for your lifestyle's impact on your physical and mental condition.
I've seen folks from the poorest ghettos out jogging in the early morning. If they can seek to improve their lifestyle through hard work and perseverance, there are no valid excuses.
I know that a lifestyle change can potentially bring health and quality of life back to many people but I do understand the difficulty. I have had to fight my own battles to change my life around at various points on my personal timeline. Once we set off on a particular course, force of habit has a terrible inertia which makes course adjustments and changes difficult.
There may also be other factors involved, such as addiction or a social network which does not support positive change. But ultimately, we are playing the fool if we try to convince ourselves that we are powerless to change our lives for the better.
But perhaps that's not entirely the problem.
Perhaps you are looking for a kind of magic.
Some easy fix-all that is going to suddenly make living a healthy lifestyle easier.
Perhaps some kind of pill that you can pop to get instant good health and positive outlook. Maybe some techno-gadget that makes change easy.
The TV channels are full of health and lifestyle products of questionable worth that all purport to be miracle aids for positive change. Perhaps that's why people are so dismissive of my suggestions when they come for advice. They want me to tell them a secret. The secret to my training and lifestyle success.
Well OK then. Fine! You've pestered me long enough.I'll tell you the ancient secret.
It's an old Kung Fu trick. Used for thousands of years. Like all good secrets, it's hidden in plain site in the term 'Kung Fu' itself.
It will give you the power to change your life around.
It will make physical exercise a breeze.
It will give you ultimate authority over your mind and body.
You will be able to exercise indomitable will and iron self-control as easily as you shrug your shoulders.
It's a kind of magic. You have to follow these directions exactly, though.
Are you paying attention? Good. The secret is to set your alarm clock to go off at 4:45 in the morning and then to get up when it goes off. Do not use the snooze function! Get up and start exercising. Yup. That's the secret.
You will set your alarm to go off at 4:45 tomorrow morning. When it wakes you up, you will get up, drink some green tea and go out into the cold frosty morning to exercise. It doesn't matter what type of exercise you do, as long as you exercise (If you want suggestions, come and talk with me or ask a personal trainer. But definitely don't come to me to ask for suggestions and then start rattling off a list of excuses. I've heard them all before and I'm tired of that kind of BS. See above paragraphs).
You will then repeat this formula the next day and every subsequent day for the rest of your life (Taking breaks only on previously-scheduled rest days. NOT when you feel like it).
In time you will begin to see the magic formula working. It will get easier and easier but it will never remain easy for long because you will then make your training program harder.
And you will get physically and mentally stronger, fitter, healthier.
You see, positive lifestyle change cannot come from feelings. If you're waiting until it feels right, you'll still be waiting when you start your long dirt-nap. Feelings are fickle things that change like the wind. A conscious choice has to be made and then followed regardless of your personal feelings.
You don't need any gear and you certainly do not need active wear! Just get out there and do something. Anything for goodness sake!
Once you've got that started, you can start working the same magic on the other areas of your life like diet, entertainment and sleep patterns for example. Your exercise program is the centre of positive change for the rest of your life. The formula for change in any area of your life is essentially the same. If you want to change something, change it. Just do it.
Of course this is not going to be easy. It was never meant to be. An easy, comfortable life does not develop strength, fitness and resolve. I can also argue that an easy, comfortable life can never really be the source of anything positive because positivity requires hard work, blood, sweat, tears and perseverance. As I mentioned before, the secret is hidden in the term 'Kung Fu', which is a loan-term which can be applied to any meritorious skill gained through hard work.
Written by Lester Walters, Head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia
© Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia 2017. ABN 12 792 347 015